Limited Edition Prints – Yes or No?

While many outlets and artists choose to sell prints in limited editions it is often unlikely that such editions would sell out anyway for those in niche markets, particularly where edition limits are set in the hundreds or even multiples of ten. Independent artists typically cannot leverage the same reach as major art retailers thus the claim of removing prints from the mass market by setting edition limits is in many cases a misnomer. There are also ethical issues with limiting the availability of prints that, with digital technology, can be reproduced in perpetuity. Especially when the original artwork itself was created by digital means. Indeed the abilty to reproduce in-perpetuity without loss of quality is one of the key advantages of digital technology.

There is an ongoing debate in the photography industry about the use of limited editions and also (it could be said a parallel debate) about whether strictly speaking photography even qualifies as “fine art” (itself a somewhat nebulous and subjective term). Limiting editions serves primarily as a means to artificially inflate price and does not in itself reflect the quality of the work. We have all seen very clearly in recent years the economic consequences of artificially and arbitrarily defining value where none exists otherwise. There is also the perception that limited edition prints will increase considerably in value over time. While this may be the true in the case of rare photographs that are difficult if not impossible to reproduce or imitate, or works by the top elite photographers who are well known in art collection circles (that said Ansel Adams did not produce limited editions), there are of course no guarantees and only particularly discerning and expert art collectors will be able to say with any degree of certainty. For mainstream buyers though there are risks involved for them in buying limited editions. In any case the set price in itself will have an impact on the total units sold of any photograph regardless of any edition limit.

There is also another side to this ethical conundrum. A collector may purchase a limited edition print from a photographer (or a reproduction from a painter) which in the future increases in value perhaps two, three fold or more. Meaning the profit made by the collector of the works is significantly greater than that made by the artist unless there is an agreement in place for the artist to be paid a percentage of any resale surplus.

Limited edition prints are also a carryover from a time when processing methods meant there was a physical limit to the number of copies that could be made without eventual loss of quality – e.g. wear of lithographic plates. With digital reproduction this is no longer an issue. Furthermore with online publication of digital (or digitized) works it is no longer possible to guarantee the number of printed copies of an image that are in existence – making it harder to establish a universally agreed criteria for limited editions.

This is of course not to say that digital photographs should not ever be sold in limited editions or that there is anything wrong with setting edition limits – only that there needs to be a clear and justifiable reason to do so. However I do believe very much in the democratisation of art – something that seems incompatible with the setting of arbitrary edition limits.


Prints From Dunmaglas Photography

Prints from Dunmaglas Photography are sold in open editions though specially numbered prints are available by arrangement. These will include the photographer’s signature, date of signing and the number of signed prints of the photograph in the size and medium on the back. For example if you purchase an Alumini Print at 20”x30”, signed and dated with Signed Print No. 2 on the back this means this is the second print to be produced and signed by the photographer however more, unsigned copies, in this size and format may have been sold (the quantity of this can still be traced though).

Online prices of prints from Dunmaglas Photography are standardised and set methodically using the cost of production as a baseline. This is a far simple means than attempting to assign value on the basis of the composition in the image. In any case such a pricing method would be influenced primarily by personal taste rather than by anything measurable. Customers will make purchasing decisions based to a great extent on their own personal taste and what fits with their display site and this will vary from one customer to another. To charge one customer more than another where cost of fulfilment is the same purely because the photographer prefers one photograph over the other would represent a most peculiar approach to business.


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